Illinois student proficiency up in 2023, but two-thirds still read below grade level

Illinois student proficiency up in 2023, but two-thirds still read below grade level

Illinois state education administrators celebrated academic progress in 2023, but student achievement is still behind where it was before COVID-19 hit. Chronic absenteeism remained high. Enrollment dropped again.

Illinois state education administrators are celebrating “strong progress” for Illinois students as proficiency in both reading and math increased between 2022 and 2023, based on data from the newly released Illinois Report Card.

But what remained consistent was fewer students were performing at or above grade level in 2023 than prior to the pandemic.

The data shows only 35% of students could read at grade level in 2023. Only 27% met proficiency in math.

Illinois Superintendent of Education Tony Sanders said the state has a “significant distance to travel” toward recovery after pandemic-era school closures caused record-low proficiency rates statewide.

Reading proficiency remains 6% lower in 2023 than in 2019, the last test data prior to pandemic-era school closures, and 15% lower in math.

Proficiency rates rise, but still fail to meet pre-pandemic levels

Illinois State Board of Education data on the Illinois Assessment of Readiness reports 35% of third- through eighth-grade students could read at grade level in spring 2023 and 27% were proficient in math. This marks a 17% and 6% increase in proficiency rates since 2022.

But proficiency for Illinois students still falls short of pre-pandemic levels.

In 2018-2019, the final school year before the state implemented COVID-19 mitigations, nearly 38% of students in third through eighth grades were proficient in reading and 32% in math.

Other areas state leaders highlighted included the high school graduation rate, which sits at 87.6% for the class of 2023 – the highest it has been in 13 years. But students in this graduating class of 2023 who completed high school in four years were among the 11th grade students who took the state-required SAT in spring 2022. Just 30% met grade-level standards in reading and 29% in math.

Current Illinois 12th-grade students scored on average nearly 12 points lower in reading and 25 points lower in math on the SAT this past spring as juniors compared to juniors in 2019. Just 32% of current seniors could read at grade level and 27% performed math proficiently on the SAT in spring 2023.

Chronic absenteeism remains high

Chronic absenteeism in Illinois and nationwide skyrocketed following the pandemic. In Illinois, the high levels of chronic absenteeism have remained steady.

In the 2022-2023 school year, 28% of Illinois students were chronically absent, marking a 5% decrease from the previous school year but still nearly 62% higher than the 2018-2019 school year. Chronic absenteeism is measured by missing 10% or more of the school year – typically 18 instruction days – with or without an excused absence.

Enrollment continues to decline across Illinois

Illinois public schools enrolled 1,857,790 students in the 2022-2023 school year. That marked a drop of 11,535 students last school year compared to the previous 2021-2022 school year. The ISBE stated the overall trend of declining enrollment tracks with trends in birth rates nationwide.

This past school year saw the biggest jump in enrollment of English learners in five years, with a nearly 13% increase since 2019. But state educators did not outline what percent of that increase is because of new migrant students, especially in Chicago Public Schools.

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